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HARTE: Early morning classes harmful to learning

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HARTE: Early morning classes harmful to learning

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With spring semester course registration coming up, many students are likely worried about getting stuck with early morning classes. These classes are often filled with drowsy, inattentive learners. Given students’ tendency to get insufficient sleep, Marquette should consider gradually eliminating 8 a.m. classes.

Phasing out 8 a.m. classes would ensure students aren’t signing up for courses when many are unable to perform at their peak academic abilities. The change should also correspond with increased awareness about the importance of sleep for the well-being of college students.

Many students likely underestimate the role sleep plays in their grade performance. New research from the University of St. Thomas found that sleep disturbances are a significant indicator of academic problems. Each additional day per week a student experienced sleep problems raised their probability of dropping a course by 10 percent and lowered their cumulative GPA by 0.02 points.

Sleep problems are also a prevalent occurrence among college students. Up to 60 percent of students suffer from poor sleep quality, according to a 2009 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health.  One in five students reported staying up all night at least once in the last month, and 35 percent reported staying up until 3 a.m. at least once a week. These students also experienced more problems with physical and psychological health than consistently good-quality sleepers.

In college, the number of night owls also far outnumbers the early birds, according to a 2017 study from the University of Nevada, Reno and The Open University. Based on most students’ sleep patterns, researchers found that later class start times, such as 11 a.m. or noon, result in better learning. These times correspond with college students’ peak functionality better than morning classes, as it allows late-night studiers more time to sleep in.

There are many factors that force college students to forgo sleep. They may pull all-nighters to study for an exam or finish an essay. They could also have long work hours or student organization schedules, which forces them to put off homework until later in the night. Some students also rely heavily on caffeine to stay alert throughout the day, which can inhibit their ability to fall asleep when they’re trying to.

There’s also a biological component that prevents college students from being early risers. Researchers at the University of Munich studied adolescents’ circadian rhythm, an internal clock that determines feelings of drowsiness and alertness over a 24-hour period. They found that the body’s preferred waking time gets later during your teens, reaching its latest point at the age of 20. After 20, the body’s natural waking time gradually gets earlier again. This recalibration of the natural waking time after age 20 explains why older people have an easier time waking up than college-age people.

Given most students’ sleep patterns, it may be confusing that they would sign up for 8 a.m. classes in the first place. Class registration is determined by total credits earned, with senior-standing students registering first. This sometimes leaves less-desirable class times for freshman and sophomore students, such as early morning lectures.

Eliminating 8 a.m. classes would ensure students aren’t forced to take classes many would dread waking up for. It would also demonstrate that Marquette’s administration is aware of the role sleep plays in students’ academic and mental well-being.

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One Response to “HARTE: Early morning classes harmful to learning”

  1. Dr. Jim Gutmann on November 13th, 2018 9:50 am

    Spending 4 years at MUHS and 6 at MU, I never had to pull an all-nighter (nothing past 11/12 pm) as I learned how to listen in class & budget my time effectively. Of course I was not plagued with the frivolous nature of social media; and learning how to study in high school played a major role in my good sleep habits. We are dealing with a whole new world today with both positives and negatives.

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